How to rebuild a nation
HOW TO REBUILD A NATION (Amos 4:4-12)
God sends his messenger to tell His nation why they are struggling. Because of....
The good news
· South Africa is not only self-sufficient in virtually all major agricultural products, but is also a net food exporter. It is also the leading exporter of protea cut flowers, which account for more than half of proteas sold on the world market.
· SA has seven climatic regions, from Mediterranean to subtropical to semi-desert.This biodiversity, together with a coastline 3 000 kilometres long and served by eight commercial ports, favours the cultivation of a highly diverse range of marine and agricultural products, from deciduous, citrus and subtropical fruit to grain, wool, cut flowers, livestock and game.
· We are one of the world’s largest producers of Gold, Platinum and diamonds.
· We have a long history of ingenuity- Pratley Putty, the first heart transplant, the CAT scan, PayPal and Ubuntu are all thanks to South African ingenuity.
· Our people have tenacity – we went head to toe with the British Empire at the height of its strength and gave them a run for their money.
· And we have diversity – according to the Fearon analysis we are one of the 10 most ethnically and culturally diverse nations on earth. And we have maintained that diversity against all expectations, managing to overcome apartheid and move into democracy without civil war.
· And we are a gospel-rich country. There are multiple churches in every city and town and a rich history of Christianity. Around 80% of our country claim to be Christian.
If any country could rival the promised land – surely South Africa must be in the running. If any country could claim the unique blessing of God, surely we would be in the running?
The bad news
And yet, where has all this diversity, and mineral and agricultural wealth and gospel preaching really got us?
· One of the largest discrepancies between rich and poor
· On the brink of economic recession in 2018
· One of the first countries in the world to legalize homosexual marriage and one of the first in Africa to legalize abortion.
· Unemployment at its highest since 2008 and downgraded to junk status by the world bank.
· One of the highest murder and rape rates in the world
· Growing corruption, growing economic disparity, growing unemployment, growing national debt, increasing immigration rates, growing immorality.
We are not in a happy place as a country, we are not experiencing God’s favour…
God sends a message to his people who find themselves in a similar situation in Amos 4 and I want us to consider what He says to Israel – they were blessed above all nations, but found themselves on the brink of national ruin and God tells them why and what to do about it.
I want us to consider what God says this morning, because I think its relevant to us as South African’s and to us as Christians in this country – at the brink of a new year and of a new era.
Amos was a farmer. He tended sheep and goats and also cultivated a type of fig. He was basically an ordinary hardworking farmer, who God called for a time from his home in the Judah, to go up to Israel in the North and give them God’s perspective of what was going on.
1: Oppression (4:1a)
You see, Amos had lived living during a time of national prosperity, when Israel had relative peace from all her neigbours, farming had been good and there was an abundance of food and trade. Things were going well and when things go well, we tend to think that God is the one who is blessing us and that He’s pleased with us. But Amos goes to tell them otherwise.
Basically, as people became wealthier they also became greedier and so rich landowners were exploiting the poorer people among them. There was bribery and corruption going on as people tried to gain more wealth and to protect what they already had. If they could catch someone in a sale and make more profit they would.
Amos starts off by proclaiming God’s judgement on the nations surrounding Israel and showing how this judgement was just because of how they had rebelled against God. Then he hones in on Israel and shows how they are more deserving of judgement because they couldn’t plead ignorance. God had shown Himself to them and made His expectations clear from the beginning and yet Israel hadn’t listened.
God doesn’t have an issue with wealth- but He does have an issue with ill-gotten gains. We profit by oppressing others.
· Bribery oppresses the poor – because it favours the rich. Those who have money gain favour with the law, or economic preference and advantage to further their wealth. People no longer compete on an equal footing, on the basis of their performance or their product and it gets more and more difficult for the poor to rise above their poverty.
· Underpaying your workers or not paying them at all – so that there is more money for you…..I’ve heard so much of that lately, and to me its shocking
· James 5:1-6: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
This is not a time to look out for No 1. This is a time to help one another. To join hands and help each other rather than trample on each other to get ahead…
· To you seek fairness in trade – or to get a bargain?
· Do you offer bribes, if only small ones?
· Do you pay fair wages and give the poor opportunities to earn for themselves, or do you gain for yourself at their expense?
· Do you hoard wealth for yourself rather than re-investing in others?
· Do you sit back and expect a hand-out rather than earning your wages?
Stop oppression, stop exploitation, stop advancing self at the expense of other and start to rebuild with others.
2: Feminism (4:1b)
Not just oppression here, but role reversal. What is particularly irking to God is that He created the men to lead the nation, to lead the family, to be the providers and protectors and priests of the family.
Here we have these rich fat cows – which is what the text literally says. Sitting on their comfortable couches, gorging themselves on fine foods and ordering their husbands around like servants.
It’s not only oppression of the poor, but subversion of God’s appointed heads.
South Arica is leading the feminist revolt. Women are literally being favoured over men for jobs. That leaves more and more men unable to find work, unable to provide for family, unable to fulfill God’s design for their lives. More and more women in high-powered positions, with high salaries, high job demands – and who is taking care of the home, nurturing the children, preparing the next generation to live for God? Who is teaching our children their ethics, and modeling devotion to God and showing how our faith impacts how we work and what we live for?
We are leaving our children to be raised by uneducated, immoral pagans. They spend more time with our children than their own mothers.
Worldly feminism is not the liberation women – but the death toll of the family as God’s design for the nurturing of children is turned on its head in the pursuit of worldly status and wealth.
Men – work harder, work smarter, teach your family contentment and lead them in pursuing God in all of life.
Take up your stations, man up, man your positions – this is not the time for you to be lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself – but to get up and fight for your faith and your family.
Oppression, feminism, Idolatry
Read Amos 4:5-6
Instead of going up to Bethel to worship, they were going up to transgress, to sin. God prescribed for the people to worship Him and offer sacrifices at Jerusalem (1 King 12). Bethel was King Jereboam’s idea. He thought that if the Israelites kept going down to Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices, they would eventually decide to stay there. To hold on to power, he therefore set up two golden calves, one at Bethel and one at Dan. I mean, why go all the way down to Jerusalem all the time when God is everywhere in anyway? So the Israelites decide that God’s way doesn’t make sense and isn’t convenient, so they’ll rather worship their own images of god in their own way. But when we make God into our own image and we refuse to worship Him on his terms, that’s idolatry. It’s almost ironic that God first revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel. Here we have Israel, in that exact same place, worshipping a God of their own making, a much smaller god than the true God of Israel.
The question then is, are you and I serving a god of our own making? When we face a difficult circumstance, or when the world seems to be all messed up, what are we tempted to say? God doesn’t love me, or God isn’t in control, or God doesn’t know what He’s doing. Whenever God doesn’t make sense, we want to re-mould Him into our own image so that we can see clearly who we are worshipping and so that He can make more sense. But that’s idolatry.
God has revealed to us who He is, what He likes and dislikes and how He operates. It’s all here, but will we submit and believe even when God isn’t making sense? Will we still worship God in the way He wants even when He isn’t making sense, or will we give our loyalty and devotion to something or someone else?
Are you worshipping – truly worshipping God – or are you merely seeking to get something from God? Our churches are full of people that are going there for health, wealth and prosperity. They are going to worship a God of their own making and to enjoy themselves and hear a motivational speech which doesn’t bring them before the true God and His holiness. Which doesn’t call them to account and make them leave with a fear of God.
We must regain our fear of God
In verse 4-6 we get God’s comment on their religious practices. You see, the Israelites hadn’t totally abandoned God, they hadn’t totally ignored Him. They still believed in Him, they still went to worship regularly and to offer their sacrifices and even to give of their tithes. In today’s terminology we would say they were upstanding faithful churchgoers. They were giving to God what was due Him, or so they thought. But for God, that wasn’t good enough. It is important to God that we see Him for who He really is. That’s why in the book of Amos we are confronted again and again with the greatness and power of God. The book opens with God literally “roaring” from Zion (1:2), in chapters 1 through 3 we have God judging all the nations and Israel. He declares that “no disaster strikes a city unless the Lord has done it” (3:6). In Amos 4:13 we see the God “ who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts “ “Who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the Lord God of hosts is His name”. Chapter 5:8 “He who changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night, who call for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, The Lord is His name. It is He who flashes forth destruction on the strong so that destruction comes upon even the most secure places”. And so Amos goes on and on painting this picture of a God who cannot be put into a corner, who cannot be controlled and dictated to, who cannot be escaped and who sees everything and controls every single aspect of life.
We must regain our fear of God
When we see the picture that Amos gives us of this great God, it seem almost ridiculous what the Israelites were doing and how they were behaving. The only explanation is that they had forgotten who God was and had made Him into this convenient, small, manageable demigod.
The other way that they had made God too small was by thinking they could offer Him their empty ritual and He would be satisfied. Everything they were doing in verse 4 and 5 was prescribed by the law, but Amos is criticizing them for their motives. Note in vs 5 he says “this is what you love to do”. It’s like God wasn’t really a part of their religious practices. They were doing all the right things, but their hearts were far from God that’s why in vs 6,8,10 and 11 we see how God kept trying to get them to return to Him.
The rituals and sacrifices were a means of getting to God, of being able to approach Him and enjoy fellowship with Him. They had turned it into a way of trying to appease Him, to try and keep Him at bay, keep Him from punishing them. But God wants our hearts, our loyalty and our devotion, not our money, not sacrifice, not the bare minimum. He wants all of us, everything we have. How much of what we do, is simply to try win God’s approval or to try divert His judgement? Do we really want to know God personally, for who He is, or do we just want to keep Him as a nice little compartment in our lives?
You know what, our going to church every Sunday, our daily reading of the Bible, our tithing and hard work in the church and our helping people, means nothing if we are not doing it out of love for and worship of God. Are we here to worship God, to acknowledge who He is despite our circumstances, or are we just here to try appease Him and alleviate the drought? What if the drought and difficulty continues and some of us loose everything we have, will we still worship and honour God then? God doesn’t respond to our rituals, but He does respond to our hearts.
The final way they made God too small was by thinking He made no demands on their lives. We see in verse 5 that they were eager to make their free will offerings known and visible. They wanted to be praised by men, respected. They were more worried about what people thought than about what God thought. And we can see by the rest of what Amos had to say, that they had not allowed God to make a difference in their lives. They were corrupt, oppressive, greedy abusive, you name it. It’s like they made this big compartment in their life: here’s God and religion and here’s the rest of my life, which has nothing to do with that over there. I’ll give God this here to keep Him happy, but I’ll live my life on my terms, I’ll lie if I have to, God will just have to overlook the way I’m treating my staff, as long as I’m comfortable, who cares about my fellow Israelites, it’s their own fault. They didn’t let their love of God filter down so that they loved men with the same love.
Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commands. You see, for God, our actions show where our hearts really are. So I sometimes ask myself, what would my wife say about my love for God, what would my mother-in-law or my boss say? Can other people see that loving God means I love them too? When your farms were giving maximum yield, how much did your staff share in your abundance. Even now, can they see you helping them through these rough times, or do they just see you looking out for yourself. If God doesn’t make a difference to the way I work and study and treat my family and if God doesn’t make a difference to the way you run your farms, then we’ve made our God too small.
Our churches are full of hypocrites – who profess one thing and live another. Who worship God with their lips while their hearts are far from him.
80% of our country claims to be Christians – that means
· Most of the corrupt business deals are being handled by professing believers.
· Most of the divorces in this country are being pursued by professing Christians
· Most of the abortions in this country are being carried out by professing believers….
· Most of the robberies and murders that take place in this country are being carried out by professing believers.
God’s Response (6-11)
And we see in vs 6 to 11, God’s response when we make Him too small, He shows us just how big He is. We see God active in a series of events which seem to get more and more severe. First He removes their food and supply of food, then in vs 8 their water, then in vs 9 He sends pestilence and destroys even their future crops, then in vs 10 he begins to attack the people themselves and finally in vs 11 they suffer almost the same destruction as Sodom and Gomorrah. What's the point of all these examples? None of these things were that abnormal in the climate and the region. Modern science could quite possibly explain everything as natural cause and effect. Yet Amos is saying, don’t you see the significance of all these things? It’s not like God set the universe in motion and now He’s looking on from over there just watching things. They would have been blind not to recognize God’s hand. The blight and the mildew in vs 9 were recognized by Israelites as a sign of God’s punishment. We can read about that in Dt 28. When they had rain and things were moist, then they got this fungus called mildew, which destroyed their crop in anyway. If it wasn’t too much rain, then it was this hot dry wind blowing in from the south and drying out their corn before it was properly ripe. The rain on one city and not another and the lack of rain at the crucial times of the harvest. All this couldn’t be co-incidence. It’s almost shocking in vs 10 and 11 when God likens His discipline on them to that of Egypt and Sodom. God’s treating His people, believers, as though they were heathens, as though they were His enemies.
What is God repeatedly asking for?
You have not repented – you have not turned from your sin and turned back to God with a true and sincere heart.
You have continued in your oppression, your feminism, your idolatry, your legalism, your hypocrisy.
God’s trying to get their attention, to get them to return to Him, to be His people again as they ought to be and as He made them to be. Israel had seen God deliver them from bondage in Egypt and the wilderness and seen Him working to give them their promised land and in all these things, they saw Him use famine and disease and weather for their benefit. Now they were experiencing it from the other side. Now they were the one’s suffering and experiencing hardship and difficulties.
But for God, this was still His chosen means of delivering them and preserving them. Their comfort and rebellion and corruption were destroying them and God was using harsh circumstances to draw them back to Him. The list of terrible things that God had brought into their lives in vs 11 were a visible sign of His grace toward them. That He hadn’t abandoned them, but wanted them to love and serve Him on His terms.
What does this passage teach us? Is God sovereignly in control of everything – yes. Does He not only allow, but cause His people to suffer – yes. Why do we not want to accept God for who He is, this theme is addressed over and over in the scriptures. Hebrews chapter 12 explains it as well, God disciplines those He loves and it says we are not his children if we are not disciplined by Him, so in some ways it’s actually a privilege. God cares enough about us, to discipline us. Why? It’s the same answer every time, Heb 12:10; Rom 8:29, Amos 4 – that we might share in His holiness. It’s not His punishment, it’s His grace, His means of getting our attention that we might be brought back to Him and to hope in Him. God wants us, and He’ll stop at nothing to get us, that’s why He sent His only Son into the world, so that we could be restored to Him.
Read Amos 4:12-13
What’s the warning here. Things will only get worse until we respond with our whole hearts to God. If they don’t get worse now, then they will get worse when we come face to face with the God who has been trying to get our attention. That’s vs 12 “prepare to meet your God O Israel”. Why do we go on in sin and rebellion when things can only get worse for us? If that’s the warning, what’s the hope – that God will end the drought? I don’t know. But in vs 11 we see that God didn’t completely destroy them like Sodom, but he snatched a firebrand away. When we turn and put our trust in God, we know He won’t let us be completely destroyed and He will give us strength to endure.
The discipline of God is meant to bring us to repentance because if we really turn to Him and return to Him – we will find grace and mercy.
Turn from oppression, from feminism, from idolatry, legalism and hypocrisy – turn to God with your whole heart – and you will find grace, mercy, strength you didn’t know before
I think we can see revival in this land – but it begins with the true believers truly turning back to God.